Writer/director Hichem Boussahela and actor Souad Janati on Theatre Mosaique’s response to lockdown…
How was 2020-2021 for artists in Algeria?
Boussahela: 2020-2021 was a different and unusual year, in which there were many questions about the virus, or rather about this epidemic and its impact on art in general – and on theatre in particular. So lots of patience, courage, research and writing.
Janati: The global quarantine has had such a significant impact on human life, bringing total immobility to so many areas of life, and Algeria was not excluded from this situation. The decision to freeze artistic activities has had a huge impact on most artists.
What was the specific effect on you?
Boussahela: The play Tajaa’eed (‘Wrinkles’) was the beautiful and special thing that happened to me. We started rehearsals at the beginning of January 2020 and decided that the first show would be in March 2020. Unfortunately the rehearsals had to stopped when our venue was closed due to Covid – that was two days before the first show.
Janati: As a person, I had to respond to the quarantine decisions firstly with my family in mind, but as an artist I was also very affected, especially since I was in the middle of creating a new production as assistant director with my husband Hichem as the author and director of the piece.
What aid was there for you in your country?
Boussahela: We did not receive any additional assistance other than our monthly wage as usual
Janati: We did not receive any aid as we are employees of the Regional Theatre of Sidi Bel Abbès, which is a governmental institution.
Has the pandemic released the idea of art or confined it?
Boussahela: Over time, art and artist have been a space for freedom and breathing in the midst of health or war crises, so nothing restricts art or imprisons it. Art and the artist always adapt to their present, and have a free view of the future.
Janati: I think that the quarantine has limited the freedom of art, especially performance because theatre is a living art, lived and produced through interaction with the audience.
How did you work during lockdown?
Boussahela: The closure caused the suspension of Wrinkles and it turned out to be a long break of eight months. I was against the idea of presenting a show without an audience so I didn’t work on an online version. Instead I waited for the venues to open, but unfortunately we wente back into quarantine again.
Janati: To be honest, I am one of those who reject the idea of resurrecting theatre on screen, because I believe in live performance.
Boussahela: Wrinkles included a group of drama students studying at the University of the Arts, and the closure caused the university to close which made them leave their student residence because they are from another city in Algeria. In the first five months of lockdown, I could do nothing but stay at home, reading and writing, the result being my writing of two plays. We worked hard like this until Covid regulations allowed us to resume rehearsals, but the problem of closing hotels and university accommodation made us look for a place where the actresses from outside the city could stay – our home. So lockdown wasn’t only negative results – the personal connection and experience of sharing our home with our artist friends were among the most beautiful and wonderful we experienced during lockdown.
Janati: The experience of producing a show during the quarantine period was exhausting but interesting at the same time because of the restrictions on time and place. At one point we were able to work from 9am to 6pm with curfew starting at 8pm. Inviting our actresses to stay in our house was a wonderful artistic human experience as we shared the bitter and the with our fellow artists as we waited.
How have you kept connected with your audience?
Boussahela: Despite my thoughts on online performance, in order not to sever our relationship with our audience, we have put some of our previous work on YouTube, such as our plays Maya and Mira, until we presented our Wrinkles directly in front of audiences in March this year. We took advantage of a temporary opening of theatres to present nine performances in different places before returning to the lockdown we are experiencing now.
Janati: We were obliged to follow to quarantine procedures even when the cultural facilities opened and between opening and closing and arranging the first show of the play, which was programmed in March 2020 and then postponed until March 2021. On the stage, so as not to deprive the students of the pleasure of meeting the theatrical audience, and we had that in the end, but soon we returned to lockdown again. We hope to share our experience again.
Any general thoughts on the future?
Boussahela: The future… is to come out of lockdown and present our theatre to the public. I am working on a new play, which is my third monodrama in ten years. And opening all the borders so we can complete our dream of performing our shows in 50 countries.
Janati: Rehearsals for a new monodrama will begin in September!
Tajaa’eed/Wrinkles is a play produced during the pandemic and lockdown year of 2021-2021, written and directed by Hicham Boussahela, produced by the Regional Theatre of Sidi Bel Abbès in cooperation with the Faculty of Arts, Languages and Arts, Department of Arts of Djillali Liabes University, Algeria.
Trailer for solo show Mira, performed by Souad Janet, written & directed by Hichem Boussahela.